Chairman Takano: “The COVID-19 pandemic requires immediate, bold action.”
Jenni Geurink (202-819-4684)
Miguel R. Salazar
RIVERSIDE, CA – Today, after introducing the Heroes Act, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano (D-Calif.) issued the following statement regarding the Committee’s new legislation to aid veterans during the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure VA can continue to serve our nation’s veterans as we address this public health emergency.
“As veteran unemployment skyrockets to 12 percent and VA steps up to serve both our nation’s veterans and civilians through its Fourth Mission, it is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic requires immediate, bold action,” said Chairman Mark Takano. “The Heroes Act is critical. By supporting homeless veterans, suspending debt collection, expanding health coverage, and caring for our most vulnerable, we can help ensure that those who have served our country have an opportunity to succeed.”
The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs secured key provisions in the Heroes Act to continue to safeguard our nation’s veterans from the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Expanded Health Coverage Amid COVID-19: As we work to stop the spread of COVID-19, it is crucial that anyone who needs healthcare during this crisis can get it. That is why the Heroes Act will authorize VA healthcare for all veterans who lost their health insurance due to the pandemic.
- The Heroes Act will also include legislation introduced by Subcommittee Chair Pappas that helps VA streamline the payment of emergency care claims to community providers during the pandemic and grants prior authorization for any emergency care sought by veterans at non-VA hospitals, including those related to COVID-19 diagnosis and treatment, and ambulance transportation.
- Additionally, thanks to Rep. Underwood’s efforts, veterans will not have any copays or cost-sharing for preventative treatment or services related to COVID-19.
- Support for Homeless Veterans: The COVID-19 crisis has affected tens of thousands of homeless veterans as shelters have closed and funding for vital services have become strained. As this crisis exacerbates economic challenges, we must take steps now to assist this vulnerable population and help prevent more veterans from being forced into homelessness. Subcommittee Chair Mike Levin has been a leader addressing homelessness and has drafted the following provisions, included in the Heroes Act, to be introduced as standalone legislation in the coming days.
- The Heroes Act allows VA to provide transportation and purchase food, shelter, phones, clothing, blankets, and toiletry items for homeless veterans. It also authorizes VA to set up temporary encampments on the grounds of VAMCs to allow homeless veterans to stay temporarily in VA parking lots.
- It covers children of homeless veterans by allowing VA to provide reimbursements to social service providers receiving grants for the costs of services for minor children.
- Additionally, it streamlines the provision of HUD-VASH vouchers to homeless veterans by allowing public housing agencies administering rental assistance vouchers to process applications electronically and waive in-person inspection requirements so we can rapidly house veterans during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
- Caring For Our Most Vulnerable: In-home care is critical to serving some of our most vulnerable veteran populations and ensures that those who need assistance with daily activities are not forgotten. The Committee has worked to include language in the Heroes Act to increase the amount VA can pay for Aid and Attendance by twenty-five percent during the current emergency period due to COVID-19 as well as covering key PPE supplies for these veterans and caregivers.
- Mental Health Care for Guard & Reserve Members Serving During COVID-19: As National Guard and Reserve members deploy in support of the COVID-19 public health emergency, the Heroes Act will ensure that servicemembers who deploy for more than 14 days will be eligible for mental health care and services through VA’s Vet Centers.
- Debt Collection Relief: As veteran unemployment skyrocketed to 12 percent this month, the economic uncertainty caused by COVID-19 continues to impact millions of veterans across the country who may be stretching incomes, struggling to cover the cost for housing, or pay their utilities. Through the Heroes Act, VA will temporarily suspend debt collection activities during the public health emergency caused by COVID-19 and for 60 days following the end of the emergency period as introduced in legislation by Subcommittee Chair Pappas.
- Extended Deadlines for Claims and Appeals: Given the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Heroes Act will extend the deadline for veterans to file claims and appeals for VA benefits, including disability compensation, during the public health emergency and 90 days after the emergency has ended.
- Bolstered Consumer Protections for Servicemembers Impacted by COVID-19: The abrupt disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and DoD’s stop movement order has left servicemembers stuck with unfair financial consequences. The Heroes Act includes legislation from Rep. Levin, Rep. Bustos, and Rep. Harder that allows these servicemembers to terminate home and vehicle leases, as well as cable, internet, and phone contracts without penalty. It also authorizes the families of fallen and catastrophically injured servicemembers to do the same without being financially penalized.
- Critical Protections for VA employees: Across our country, we have witnessed the heroic actions of doctors, nurses, healthcare professionals, and VA staff who have continued to place themselves in harm's way to serve our veteran population. The Heroes Act would:
- Establish the COVID-19 Heroes Fund to ensure VA and other federal healthcare providers and first responders are eligible for hazard pay for their efforts caring for COVID-19 patients.
- Ensure VA doctors and nurses receive paid sick leave if exposed or diagnosed with coronavirus.
- Guarantee that federal employees who fall ill from the coronavirus will be covered when filing a workers compensation claim.
For more information about the Committee’s efforts to address the COVID-19 crisis and resources for available for veterans, please visit: https://veterans.house.gov/covid-19.
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